The stories that Rivvy Neshama tells in Recipes for a Sacred Life (Divine Arts, 2013) are both magical and down-to-earth, steeped in ancient wisdom and simple family lore. The book is a collection of short, true tales that highlight the sacred in every life. Through her writing, the kindness of the world is revealed. In this excerpt from “Part Six,” Neshama writes of a spiritual awakening gained that helped her transition somewhere new, where observation and reflection intersect.
In one of many mid-life transitions, I decided to become a teacher for inner-city kids. So I enrolled at Bank Street College, where we were taught to study nature the way we’d teach our students: not by reading, but with observation and reflection. Watch something as it grows or changes, my professor said, like a plant or the moon. I chose the moon. Journal in hand, off I went, moon hunting.
It’s not always easy to find the moon in Manhattan, but for one month, from the same location, I drew where it was at noon and at different hours in the day and night. I sketched its rise and fall and changing shape, and though I never really fathomed what it all meant, I began to suspect that the earth is indeed moving. Then, one night, I woke up from a dream with a visceral sense of our spinning earth, the circling moon, and their amazing, enduring connection. For one moment, I got it, and it was a moment of joy.
I later saw that joy reflected in my third-grade students when they, too, were led to observe and discover. “Look, Miss Rivvy!” Kalima shouted. “Our bean seed is sprouting!” And at the end of the term, they created an album of notes to help me make my next transition: moving to Boulder to live with John. (“Thank you Miss Rivvy for all the good times. I hope you have a nice time with your new life. Love, Willy.”)
Once ensconced in Boulder, I entered that expansive space you sometimes enter when you’re somewhere new. This led me to attend events I would normally ignore and to join groups I would normally not join, such as The Bioregional Study Group, whose goal was to study our hometown’s ecology and learn how to live sustainably within it. We talked about things like compost, which to me seemed exotic, and I soon made two friends, Alison and Milan, who inspired me with their projects. The one I liked best was this:
Milan cut out a huge circle of white poster board and taped it to their kitchen wall. They divided the wheel into twelve months, and as the year progressed, they wrote down under each month all the changes they observed: which star was brightest and where it appeared, when they heard the first mourning dove or found violets in spring. They were creating their own almanac, and, like the Native Americans, they named each month’s full moon to track the seasons, with names like Wet Snow Moon or Moon of the Ripe Tomatoes.
But sometimes, the changes we observe can be disturbing. One summer I noted the absence of honeybees and read that parasitic mites were decimating their species. I missed seeing them and worried what would happen to the flowers and the honey. Then I noticed something I hadn’t before: A back-up crew of butterflies, wasps, and smaller bees were busy flitting from flower to flower, drinking nectar, spreading pollen, and keeping the whole thing going. And when I think of that—or the dance between our earth and moon—I think, Whoa, it’s all connected, and it all works out.
Which makes me sense a perfect wisdom, just watching it unfold.
“My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.” — Albert Einstein
“As the poet said, ‘Only God can make a tree’ — probably because it’s so hard to figure out how to get the bark on.” — Woody Allen
Read more thoughts and wisdom from Rivvy Neshama: Soul Food is a Sacred Recipe for the Mind and Body.
Reprinted with permission from Recipes for a Sacred Life: True Stories and a Few Miracles by Rivvy Neshama and published by Divine Arts, 2013.